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Matt Fitzpatrick hits seven-under-par opening round to take joint-lead at Dubai's Earth Course

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Matt Fitzpatrick hits seven-under-par opening round to take joint-lead at Dubai's Earth Course

Matt Fitzpatrick hit a seven-under-par opening round to take the lead on Dubai’s Earth Course as he aims for a third European Tour Championship – taking Rory McIlroy’s No 1 spot on the DP World Tour in the process.

  • Matt Fitzpatrick was suffering from a scratchy throat and a nagging cough
  • But he still managed to move into joint-first place at the Tour Championship
  • He is also in a strong position now to take the DP World Tour title as well
  • His brilliant opening round was enough to put the pressure back on Rory McIlroy
  • To win the Harry Vardon Trophy he would have to finish third should Fitzpatrick win

Clearly it will take more than a scratchy throat and a sick cough to change Matt Fitzpatrick’s relationship with the Earth Course in Dubai.

On a track he ‘loves’ and where he has twice been crowned European golf’s Tour Championship winner, the Englishman moved into a strong position to challenge for third after a seven-under-par opening round of 65 on Thursday.

That puts the US Open champion in a joint lead with Tyrrell Hatton, and at the same time increases the likelihood that Fitzpatrick will usurp Rory McIlroy’s place at the top of the DP World Tour’s order of merit at the final tournament of their season .

The US Open champion made five straight birdies out of the gate on Thursday at Duubai

The US Open champion made five straight birdies out of the gate on Thursday at Duubai

The latter held a large lead going into this event, but his shaky 71 means he is in grave danger of relinquishing a position he has held since July.

If Fitzpatrick goes on to win the tournament, McIlroy will need to climb from 22nd to third over the next three rounds to prevent the 28-year-old from taking the Harry Vardon Trophy.

Based on a first round in which Fitzpatrick hit 17 greens in regulation, fired seven birdies and dropped none, McIlroy will need to step up.

Rory McIlroy will need to finish third to hold on to win the Harry Vardon Trophy if Fitzpatrick wins in Dubai

Rory McIlroy will need to finish third to hold on to win the Harry Vardon Trophy if Fitzpatrick wins in Dubai

Fitzpatrick’s excellent loop, which featured five straight birdies out of the gate, came despite discomfort caused by a mild illness. He said: ‘Billy (Foster, his caddy) told me I looked like Barry White. But I feel okay. I just had a bad throat and a really dry cough for a few days – people probably think it’s covid but I’m fine.

‘I told Billy yesterday that when we won here in 2020 we had four (birdies) in a row. When the five of us were in a row today I was laughing.

‘I just want to win this tournament for the third time so that was my main goal going in. I know things are needed to win the Dubai race as well – there’s nothing I can do about that so I’m focusing on what I CAN do.’

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On a course where the dense rough proved too punishing, McIlroy suffered for some erratic drives on the back nine. He reached three under at the eighth, but returned every stroke before birdie four at the difficult 18th.

‘I’ve had three weeks off so I’ll try to knock a bit of the rust off there,’ he said. ‘There’s enough good stuff out there. It’s not far.’

The current DP World Tour No 1 struggled after suffering some erratic drives on the back nine

The current DP World Tour No 1 struggled after suffering some erratic drives on the back nine